Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Life after the Rock…

So, it’s been a month now, since I left my beloved island home, Saba, to embark on 6 flights over 3 days (Saba-St Maarten-Nevis-St Kitts-Antigua-Barbados-UK… not usually that long a journey, but a tortuous trip this time due to post-hurricane re-routing) to return to my other beloved home, green, grey, cold and rainy England. From one tiny island, to another tiny (but actually relatively giant) island.

I miss my 5 square miles Saba tremendously. But, I am adjusting to life back in the UK… just about. 

I miss the people on Saba. The friendly greetings, the happy faces, the familiarity. I miss that the people in the grocery store know not only your name, but your address, hopes, dreams, sorrows and life story! Yes, the stores here may have far more choice, which is lovely (fresh food, cheese, chocolate, mmmm), but the cashiers don’t know your name, nor drive you home afterwards… I miss not needing to worry about losing my house or car keys, because no one locks their homes or cars on Saba. It is so safe and so beautiful. I’ve left mum’s house a few times unlocked, but she double-checks. I’m sure it would be fine… but well, it seems leaving your house unlocked and your car unlocked with your keys in the ignition and purse on the passenger seat is not the done-thing here.

I find myself still enthusiastically greeting people I pass in the streets, here in chilly England. A few people respond, startled and staring, thinking “Do I know you?!”, while others just avoid eye contact and quickly hurry on their way. Luke tells me that if I keep saying hello to strange men across the street at night, I’ll find myself murdered in a bush. That’s not the way of things on Saba. Everyone says hello, day or night, black or white, known or unknown, everyone is your friend on Saba. 

I also still find myself waving at passing drivers in cars… no one waves back. They just ignore you, simply don’t notice you, or panic that there’s a problem with their vehicle you’re trying to point out. On the topic of cars, no one seems to drive around here with a cracked, or even completed smashed in windscreen or roof. The cars here lack character somehow. They have no Saba scratches, dents or love bites. Also, no one hitches… and no one stops to simply offer you a ride, if you look like you’re in a hurry, or if they’d just like a chat. Cars do beep at each other… but it doesn’t seem to be motivated by a “Hello, how are you?”… more a “Get out of my way!”… The roads here are terrifying. People drive on the other (Wrong? Right? Left) side of the road! There are so many lanes. So many lorries. Moving so fast. And sometimes so slow… standstill traffic kills me. I feel like my life is being sucked out of me when I’m stuck in traffic. I miss the one, beautiful, quiet, winding road on Saba. I miss feeling breathless and sweaty after cycling on it – the thrill of the downhill, the satisfaction of making it uphill – and all the people who shout encouragement, not abuse, as you pass them by on the bike. 

I miss my Saba students terribly. At first it felt surreal to be back… like I was just back “home” for the Christmas break and would soon be returning to my Saba “home”, to be reunited with my incredible students in January. But the first week of the semester has now come and gone. I’ve seen the pictures on Facebook. Received messages from a special few staff and students. But life on Saba, life at SUSOM, now goes on without me. I wish I could have been there to proudly congratulate those amazing students being recognised in the Honours Society and enthusiastically welcome the new students during the White Coat Ceremony. 

I’m trying to get used to flushing the toilet paper down the toilet again, but I still object to flushing the toilet every time I go! I’m saving the planet, one un-flushed toilet at a time. The “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” mantra is still alive and strong in my life. Yesterday, a lady went into the swimming pool toilets after me and came out complaining about how public toilets always smell like urine… I thought to myself, oh yes, oops, sorry, that was probably my unflushed pee. I just smiled to myself. 

I desperately miss the sunshine, big blue skies and sea views. It can feel quite claustrophobic being not only landlocked from the sides here with no sign of the sea, but also from above, with grey clouds bearing down on you.  Thankfully today, the sun has broken through here, and although it is still very cold, it is refreshing to see a glimpse of sunshine and blue sky. I will venture out in it, but I need to wear 5 layers of clothes now… I’m not sure whether I’ve gained weight from delicious Christmas dinners, or whether I just look 3 sizes bigger because of all the clothes I’m wearing. My flip-flops have been replaced by furry boots, my swim wear by woolly hats and my glowing suntan but pale, cold, hairy, hidden legs! Life is a lot more indoors here... I miss breakfasts on the balcony, but have enjoyed lots of full English breakfasts with mama.

I miss my lunchtime swims with my dear friends, where we would chance upon happy turtles, lovely fish, beautiful coral… or sometimes brave the waves and swim all the way out to Torrens’ point, climb up and then gaze at the stunning views before jumping off the cliffs into the blue, beckoning water below. I decided I was still going to swim on Christmas Day, whatever the weather, so off we went to the Hunstanton Charity Christmas Dip. It was freezing. And grey. And pebbly. But it was fun. It felt wonderful to see the sea again, to be part of a crazy, fun fancy-dress event and join with others for a good cause. A great way to start Christmas 😊

It has been wonderful to be reunited with loved ones over the Christmas and New Year period. To feel of their love, companionship and warmth. Although I was so lucky to have my very own “Saba family”, it did feel lonely at times there, being so far from my real family, old friends and my “home”. It has been lovely to feel cosy, snuggled up on a warm sofa, or by a crackling log fire this year. There is something truly magical, about being warm inside with those you love, while it’s cold outside at Christmas time. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Christmas in sunny Saba last year – Santa visiting from a neighbouring island, hiking the Tide Pools with mum and Riley, eating outside with friends, jumping in a pool and swimming at Well’s Bay…. But seeing snow, even just a flurry, outside the window, and running around a freezing cold field with your boisterous boy cousins (even if you do get a little battered, bruised and muddy) after a fabulous, famous, mighty Guys Farm feast, is something very special. 

It has been wonderful to catch up with good friends and family. To have proper girly chats and warm hugs. To feel your heart jump, when you are reunited with those you love. It has been a joy to see two of my best friends, with their fiancés, and see how happy they are. I am so excited that I already have 5 (that’s right, 5!?!?!) weddings on the calendar for 2018!! Weddings make me happy and I am so happy to see friends and family happy. I have the honour of being a bridesmaid for 2 of my dear friends this coming year, so that’s definitely something special and worth coming “home” for! So, perhaps I won’t be jetting off again too soon… we will see!

Well, on the subject of jetting off…. I have to confess, I have already been looking at flights to faraway places. The first week in January was a rough one for me. After all the festivities of Christmas and New Year, I came down with the dreaded flu. I felt awful. Sore throat, headache, body aches, fatigue, fever, chills…. I really needed to study for my clinical exams, but I couldn’t even get out of bed. I felt so rotten. At the same time, I was running into unexpected difficulties reinstating my licence to practise medicine in the UK and my medical indemnity fees were sky-rocketing after working abroad. I thought the best solution, clearly, would be to just jump on the next flight back to Saba… I’m not sure Saba (or the neighbouring flight passengers) would have appreciated me coughing and spluttering all over them - and potentially decimating the 2,000 strong population with my exotic lurgy would not have been my finest moment. So, I stayed home, in bed and rested. My mum was an angel. It’s never nice being ill, wherever you are, but it is certainly worse to be ill far from “home”. It was comforting to have my loving mum on hand to care for me - mopping my brow, bringing me drinks and drugs, making me soup and covering me in her traditional-tried-tested-and-trusted Vicks Vapo Rub!

I’m now feeling better and have taken the first of the exams. It felt strange (weird, horrible and refreshing all at the same time) to be the student again, rather than the professor. I’ve joined a local triathlon club – but I desperately miss my Saba triathlon friends. The people here seem nice though… they ask me where I was before and when I tell them the Caribbean, they all think I’m mad for coming back. They don’t expect me to be back for long. A guy I met on the plane on the way back said he’d give me three months before I caved in and returned to the Caribbean! Ha. We will see! I was looking at flights again last night, thinking perhaps I’d just return for the Saba triathlon this week… but then I thought, I probably need to give my home here a bit more of a chance… so, for now I've satisfied my itchy feet (and restless wings) by agreeing to be a medic for an awesome bunch of people next month in Laos on a charity cycle! I’m also looking forward to catching up with more loved ones here, getting back into “real life”, seeing patients again and seeing how my life will play out over the coming year... It is exciting to be able to drink water straight from the tap again. I’ve been doing a lot of that. And I love it. I will certainly return to Saba someday. Soon. It is under my skin. It is in my heart. It is a special place. Made so special by the incredibly special people I met there. But, for now, I’m getting used to being home again. And that in itself, is bittersweet and beautiful.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Kathmandu - 3rd time lucky :)

“I’m surprised to see that people come back. Time and time again. This is not a resort. You must really like it to actually want to come back…” These were the bemused musings uttered by a lady-stranger I met today on learning that this is my 3rd visit to Kathmandu.

It made me think. Why am I back? Why do people come back? Time and time again. Do I “really like it”? What do I like?

Another view, expressed by a man-friend back home, divulged that he wished he could be here with me to experience this exotic place.

Is it exotic?  What is exotic? Is that why I’ve returned? To experience the exotic?

Yes, I have indeed returned and yes, there are many things I love about Nepal. But is it exotic? I’m not sure about that. Perhaps exotic in the sense that it is different. Very different from home. Although on second thoughts, it’s actually not all that different from home. Not any more. There are shops. There’s traffic. There’s internet. A lot of people fixated on their mobile phones…

Let’s see - exotic? It feels far from home. And the food is certainly spicier. Cows wander across the busy roads. Does that make it exotic?  Perhaps.

I wouldn't say it’s exotic in a tropical island/paradisical retreat sort of way. There are no clear blue waters. No beaches. No butterflies.

It’s landlocked for a start. There are noisy, fighting dogs – especially at night. Hard beds.  No clean drinking water. There’s diarrhoea and vomiting. Abdominal cramps. Sweating. Loneliness in a place that’s so busy. Loud, blaring, constantly honking horns. A lot of dust.  A lot of pollution. And a few dodgy men.

But there are many, many kind and wonderful men and women. Smiling people. Happy people. Genuine people. Generous people. Hard-working people. Honest people. Good people.  Loving people. I do love the people of Nepal. So, I suppose that is why I have returned.

And I do enjoy the food. Although some of the more fiery foods disagree with my bowels, I still enjoy a good, zesty curry. I adore the sights and smells (not the smells of urine, traffic, dogs or sewage so much)… But the smells of incense, chillies, curries, flowers, sweet chai…. 

The sight of beautiful, mesmerising, multi-coloured prayer flags flapping in the wind. The sight of the monumental Himalayan foothills, silhouetted against a gentle sunset when the smog clears on a cool Autumn evening. The sight of familiar faces – seeing their gleeful expressions and feeling their warmth and friendship.

There’s something strangely satisfying too about washing your own clothes by hand. Splashing yourself in the process - with just a little water at first - then completely soaking yourself when you accidentally turn the shower on instead of the tap. That’s amusing. Who would have thought washing clothes could be so immensely satisfying… and amusing… and humbling.  

Humbling to recognise that I’m so privileged back home in England - to readily access a washing machine - while here I'm on my hands and knees, scrubbing and sloshing in the bathroom - with a bucket, cold water and washing-up liquid. I really take such luxuries for granted.

Humbling to realise that I’m so fortunate here in Nepal – to have a roof over my head providing a safe haven and the ability to wash myself and my clothes straight from a tap. Not needing to go to the nearest (visibly dirty) river to wash them. How lucky I am to have clothes at all – to wash and to wear. How blessed I am to have the strength, health, vitality and hands to wash. To work. To touch.

Feet to walk. To tread carefully. And run carelessly.

So, here I am again… far from home. They say home is where the heart is. There is definitely a big part of my heart back in England. But I’ve also left significant pieces of my heart all over this world that I’ve wandered. I’m trying to keep my heart here too. So that it can become my home again for a short while. I hope that I can keep my heart open to all the incredible people here.

I’m grateful for my friends and family. Near and far. All those who have touched and continue to touch my life. My heart. My hand.

I’m thinking more clearly here. Appreciating the time and space to reflect. To Ponder. Pray. Plan. Despite the noise, despite the pollution, despite the hustle and bustle, despite the confusion - I’m seeing more plainly, hearing more astutely and feeling more truly. I do really like Nepal. I like the exotic, I like the familiar. It’s good to be back. 

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Its been an incredibly busy week, but again I've left myself very little time to fill you in, as my stay in Kota Kinablu is rapidly nearing an end :-s

I'll have to try to catch up properly when I'm back in the UK...!

So, in summary:

* Most rewarding experience: Visiting burnt-down Iban village with caring Charlie Chan - helping to provide much needed water supplies, housing materials and basic medical care to the locals.

* Best scenery: Beaches, cliffs and jungle at beautiful Bako National park.

* Best wildlife: Wild, timid proboscis monkeys at Bako and amazing, astounding, agile Orangutans at Semengoh rehabilitation sanctuary.

* Biggest "wow" moment: The overwhelmingly magnificent Deer cave, at Mulu National park, one of the largest caves in the world, and the stunning, refreshing water for swimming at Clearwater cave.

* Most terrifying moment: Being chased by the "beast of Borneo"/an angry wild boar, through the pitch-black overgrown jungle during an exciting night hike with Dan.

* Most interesting/heart-breaking hospital cases: A poor man who had been the victim of a 'Hit and Run' - horrific wounds and multiple unstable, open fractures :( and another man suffering with a horrific, blistering and infected skin condition 'Pemphigus vulgaris', who had been rejected by his family due to his condition and disfigurement.

* Most disappointing moment: Losing all of my pictures from my 8GB SD card... really hope I'll be able to recover them once I'm back in the UK. Unfortunately attempts here have been terribly time-consuming and frustratingly futile.

* Most fun experience: Getting totally drenched while racing through a torrential tropical downpour in the middle of the dense Borneo jungle, leaping through puddles and over giant tree roots.

* Most "urgh" moment: Horrible body aches, exhaustion, diarrhea, nausea and fever :( Still feeling a tad fragile, but hopefully I'm on the road to recovery now....

* Best dinner and dancing: At the Kinabalu yacht club, after sea-kayaking and swimming with my wonderful "Malaysian mum", Kartini.

There are many more special memories and even more special people who have touched my life over the past week (from the hospital, from church, from Lavender lodge, from Sarawak and from the Hash harriers), but time does not allow me to elaborate now.

Hopefully, I will have some time once I'm back in the UK (wishful thinking perhaps - we arrive back into Heathrow at 6.30am and need to be in Addenbrookes hospital at 9am, agh!)

Until next time then, I'll love you and leave you. With love, Em xx

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelo

Friday, 15 July 2011

Alive :)


I really don't have much time right now, in fact I literally just have 5 mins, but I just wanted to write a little note to let you know that I'm still alive :)

Its been a bit of a crazy week to be honest.

I've narrowly avoided being inadvertently cast in a German porn film and/or human trafficked, I've run away from a man demanding my money, been picked up in a van at night by 3 men who actually rescued me from the man who wanted to mug me and survived a tropical storm :)

Have also encountered lots of interesting cases in the hospital - pancreatitis, assault, construction workers falling from 2nd floor of building....have taken bloods, performed ECGs, been on a few ambulance calls adn examined a few very distended abdomens...and met lots of lovely people.

I've been swimming with turtles and hiking with monkeys.

Off to rural clinic in a few hours, must dash, much love, miss you all xxxx 

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Highs and lows


So, I've survived my 2nd week in Borneo :) It has rained a LOT - and I'm talking torrential monsoon, wet-through-to-your-underwear-rain. Its been a busy week, with some real highs and lows...

* Lows:

I've had a few challenging experiences in the hospital this week, especially involving the unexpected deaths of young people. One particular case was a 24 year old girl, who presented to the Emergency Department following a collapse, with her very loving and anxious mother. An ECG revealed that she had heart block and ventricular fibrillation. Consequently, she was cardioverted (shocked) and then externally paced (a temporary measure to regulate her heart beat).

Later however, I discovered that she needed a pacemaker (surgery), but was not entitled to one because she was not Malaysian. I was informed that it would cost "thousands" for her to have a pacemaker and  her family simply could not afford it. End of story. I was deeply troubled by this. How is it that money should buy us life? Buy us time?

I resolved that I would try to find out exactly how much it would cost and then see whether I could somehow try to raise the funds myself... it just didn't seem right to me that someone so young, with so much ahead of them should miss out on the experiences and opportunities that we take for granted. However, by the very next day, when I returned to see her, I was already too late... she had died just a few hours earlier :(

* Low to high to low:

A man presented with shortness of breath and atrial fibrillation. Then, he suddenly went into asystole (flatline/ no cardiac activity).

The staff immediately started CPR. After a while, the doctor giving chest compressions was tiring, so I took over. It was pretty hard work, but hope and adrenaline somehow kept me going. Time passed, I've no idea how long, it was all a bit of a blur... but I was surprised and elated to be finally told to stop compressions, as we had a pulse! :) We'd got him back :) :)

Sadly, I was informed the next day, that he'd gone into asystole again later that night, but this time they'd not been able to get him back... His family were distraught.

* Highs

A 17 year old girl being pushed in a wheelchair burst through the A&E doors and the person with her shouted "In labour!" Given my enthusiasm for all things O&G, I was very excited by this declaration! I hurried over to see if I could help. Fortunately for me, I was able to stand alongside from the start. The young, worried mother-to-be squeezed my hand and I smiled back reassuringly. Even though we couldn't speak the same language, I really feel that simply being a hand to hold and the exchange of smiles made a small difference. Later on, I donned the sterile gloves and was able to assist with the delivery. It was such an special experience to witness the arrival of a small, slightly blue, but otherwise health, beautiful baby into the world. Amazing! :)

Life outside of the hospital has also been eventful this week. Katie, Nadiah and I went for a full body massage and reflexology session one evening after work at the Borneo spa. Sooooo good (although I did slightly regret asking the muscly masseuse to be as strong as she could - she was very strong!) We also went to karaoke with some of the lovely Malaysian medical students. I've been hiking again through the wild forest with the friendly and fun Hash Harriers. Some Australian guys staying at our hostel attempted to bring 3 transvestites back to their room... when the manager refused to let them bring their "women" in, one semi-naked Aussie attempted to try his luck with us - unsuccessfully! ;)

At the weekend, we climbed Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia at 4095m. We hiked up to 'base camp' on the first day, which was steep in places, but overall pleasant and manageable. The lush, rainforest scenery along the way was wonderful. That evening, the accommodation we stayed in was basic, with no heating and an outside cold shower and toilet, but the food more than made up for it (a huge, delicious buffet spread, mmm!) The next morning, we were up at 2am, ready to hike to the summit by head-torch-light to watch the sunrise.

This part of the hike was tougher and much more exciting. Clinging to climbing ropes and scrambling along uneven rocks in the middle of the night. It also became a lot colder and more exposed as we neared the summit. When the sun rose, the views were breath-taking. Majestic mountain peaks rising out of the morning mist. It felt like a little bit of heaven. Just spectacular! :)

That's all for now. My bed calls... until next time, keep smiling and sweet dreams xx

Monday, 27 June 2011

Borneo :)

Oooh, I'm new to this whole blogging malarkey, but thought I'd better give it a go...

I've now been in Malaysian Borneo for just over a week. I'm currently typing this in a sweaty little room at midnight, so apologies if I sound slightly delirious, sleep-deprived and dehydrated :)

Things are going well so far. On the way here, Nadiah and I had 2  stop-overs - one in Dubai (in the palm-treed airport) and another in Brunei, where our enthusiastic tour guide informed us that if we converted to Islam, we'd get media coverage for a day (fame at last!), a free house and an all-expenses paid trip to Mecca!

Our hostel in Kota Kinabalu is fantastic - the staff are delightful, the other guests are lovely, the water is warm (though I've been taking cold showers as its so hot here) and we have a friendly gecko 'Gregg' sharing our room. I guess the only small downside is that we're in the epicenter of the 'transvestite red light district'...

Things in A&E are busy and bloody - it can be a tad demoralising at times, as the language barrier makes communication difficult and hands-on experience is limited, but the Malaysian students are a great help and I've met patients with a variety of interesting cases - TB, Pneumonia, Malaria, Dengue, HIV, many motorbike accidents, bowel obstruction, strokes, tumours, wounds, falls, vertigo, heart attacks... I've also taken bloods, sutured a knife wound, inserted a line, performed countless ECGs, done an ultrasound to check on a 12 week old fetus and assisted as a comatose severely hypoglycaemic patient was apparently  'brought back to life' following a simple glucose infusion and fluid resuscitation! Amazing!

I've had the opportunity to ride at high speeds along windy, wild and busy roads with the ambulances a few times too. The first patient we were called out to see was unfortunately already dead on arrival. It was a really sad situation that profoundly affected me. Just months before, this man had had a good job and a home for his family. But then he'd become ill, had surgery, lost his job, lost his home, and ended up with a horrendously infected wound, lying dead among rubble and swarming flies, leaving behind a wife and 2 small children... so sad. I wish I could have done more, but the ambulance staff assured me that the police would handle the situation... I'm still worried about his poor wife and children... Hmm, I really do take my home, security, sanitation, health, freedom, family, friends, education, opportunities and innumerable other blessings for granted... I am so unbelievably fortunate. It can be easy to lose sight of this sometimes...

I'm getting quite sleepy now, so time to wrap this up. Aside from the hospital, I've had plenty of other wonderful experiences, with many more on the horizon.  I've met lovely people at church here, who kindly translated for me and following the service, eagerly introduced me to their tasty local cuisine and 'most eligible bachelor'! ;) I've also been 'running' (aka scrambling through dense jungle) with the amazing Hash Harriers, including Kartini,  'Pretty Woman', 'Stripper', 'German Sausage' and 'Big Fart'. I've seen leaves as big as me, trees as tall as towers, beautiful butterflies, pineapple plants and stunning sunsets. I've also swum among star fish, felt the wind in my hair on a bumpy speedboat ride, eaten lots of rice, been bitten by hungry mosquitoes, sampled the special 'Fish head curry', sprinted across motorways, wandered through markets, attended a regional emergency medicine symposium, and sung my heart out to Abba's 'Mamma Mia' at karaoke.

Tomorrow is a new day and I'm not sure what it will bring... but I'm sure happiness and new adventures await. Until next time, lots of sweaty hugs and kisses from Borneo, sweet dreams xxxx